Rivers and Barnett

(WOMENSENEWS)–Though women still do more of the housework and child care, the so-called second shift scenario–in which working women are stuck doing all the work at home too–is less widespread than a decade or so ago.

The fact that men can do the grunt work at home doesn’t mean that they will "naturally" do it though–usually the wife has to exert some leverage. Sometimes that leverage is her earnings; other times it’s her ability to negotiate.

Unfortunately, the fear that abounds now is that the punishing economic climate may eviscerate a positive trend of more decision making by women.

Women Are Often the Deciders

The Pew Research Center conducted a study in 2008 of 1,260 people who were married or living together as couples and found striking equality in decision making in finances, weekend activities and big-ticket purchases.

Women made the decisions 43 percent of the time, men 26 percent of the time and couples made decisions equally in 31 percent of the cases.

So, that means in 75 percent of the cases women either called the shots or were equal with men in making decisions. And 80 percent of the couples were happy with this situation.

But if women pull back in asking for a fair deal at home–especially as they are being called on to share more of the economic load in a bad economy–the result could be more stress and tension around the kitchen table.

As John F. Kennedy famously observed, "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate."

At least since 1981, when the national best-seller "Getting to Yes," by Roger Fisher and William Ury, hit the bookstores, there has been a rash of books laying out the dos and don’ts of negotiating at work.

Negotiation Is Key Message

The take-away message of many of these books is that you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate for.

Unfortunately, no such attention has been paid to the ins and outs of negotiating for what you deserve at home.

As more and more women are getting a chance to exercise their newly-honed negotiating skills at work, they need to put these skills to use in the kitchen and the nursery.

Certainly, the time is right for this, as men, as a group, increasingly carry the chores burden at home.

A 2007 study by sociologist Mick Cunningham of Western Washington University found that the more hours women spend at work, the more their husbands do at home.

Other studies suggest that men are not doing just the "fun" stuff.

Since the mid-1960s, there has been a tripling of time fathers devote to child care, reports Maryland University sociologist Suzanne Bianchi. In her 2006 book, "Changing Rhythms of American Family Life," she found that men married to employed wives are doing the basics: feeding, bathing, taking children to the doctor.

So a major stumbling block today may no longer be male recalcitrance. It could be that women’s reluctance or lack of know-how to negotiate a "fair deal" at home is the real obstacle.

Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett and are authors of "Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children and Our Jobs" (Basic Books 2004). Barnett is senior scientist at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University and Rivers is a professor of journalism at Boston University.

For more information:

As Layoffs Surge, Women May Pass Men in Job Force

"Women Call the Shots at Home" Study, The Pew Research Center

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